Unfocused Parole System Allowed Victim to Remain Captive
I was delighted when I heard the news that Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped 18 years ago, had finally been found—alive. I immediately told my wife the great news. The thought of having a child kidnapped is probably every parent’s worst nightmare, and we were very happy that she had been found. Her rescue, even after all those years, should give hope to parents of missing children who still pray every day that their child who disappeared may one day be found.
However, as my elation subsided and more information about her alleged kidnappers was made public, troubling questions arose. In 1976 her captor Phillip Garrido had been sentenced to 50 years in a federal prison for kidnapping and raping a woman in a storage unit near where Jaycee was kidnapped. After his release 11 years later, he was under continuous supervision by parole authorities.
The Reno Gazette Journal, the local paper for the community in which Jaycee grew up, wrote an in-depth article outlining the background of Garrido, from whose backyard Jaycee was rescued. The article opens with the questions on many of our minds: “As reports continue to surface about other possible victims of Phillip Craig Garrido, questions continue about why he was released from prison, who was responsible for his supervision, and how state and federal agencies failed to see two children and a woman living in his backyard.”
Garrido is a very dangerous man. An article in the Guardian painted a vivid portrait of him. “As police yesterday combed the 58-year-old Garrido’s squat bungalow in Antioch, Calif., for clues that may link him to the murder of nine prostitutes, further disturbing details of his mental state emerged, helping paint a picture of a bombed-out refugee of California’s hippie past.
“Garrido spent most of the 1970s tripping on LSD, bingeing on cocaine and smoking pot, before an 11-year prison stretch for kidnapping and raping a woman in a storage unit he had converted into a ‘sex palace,’ with sex aids, hardcore pornographic magazines and stage lights.”
Garrido’s case is a textbook example of how our current parole system has its priorities upside down. His federal parole ended in 1999, when California took over his lifetime monitoring as a sex offender.
No Focus on the Dangerous; Swamped by Paperwork for Low Risk
California places every released felon on supervised release, literally overwhelming their officers. From shoplifters and petty thieves to mass murderers, each felon is assigned a parole officer, with all the bureaucracy and paperwork involved in that process. California’s parole officers have large caseloads, averaging 70 each. Because of Garrido’s violent background he was one of 40 cases supervised by his parole officer, which is a larger load than most states assign for dangerous felons.
In addition, all sex offenders have lengthy supervision, even those convicted of urinating in public or skinny dipping. That leaves police and parole agents tracking them, while they should be focusing attention on serious offenders such as pedophiles and rapists. By requiring supervision of minor crimes as well as serious ones, law enforcement resources are stretched very thin. Parole officers spend much of their time completing paperwork on offenders who committed relatively mundane offenses, while they could be concentrating their attention on the released offenders that pose a significant risk.
As a result, very dangerous offenders don’t get the attention they should get, and the public is at terrible risk. California’s situation was summed up by Governor Schwarzenegger’s Rehabilitation Strike Team: “California’s parole system is so overburdened that parolees who represent a serious public safety risk are not watched closely enough, and those who wish to go straight can not get the help they need.”
Because case loads are so large, many parole officers slip into a routine of checking to see if the offender is using drugs or alcohol and if they have a job. If no problems are discovered in these areas, parolees get a clean bill of health. By this standard, Garrido was a model parolee; he didn’t use drugs or alcohol, he lived where he was supposed to and had a job. That was enough information to earn him a “check off” on his parole report.
But with such a dangerous man as Garrido, more attention should have been paid to the circumstances in which he was living. Why were there tents and sheds in his backyard? Why were there several bonfires that brought the fire department to his home? Why didn’t his parole officer know he had a young woman and two young daughters in addition to his wife living with him? His neighbors knew, and were suspicious; why wasn’t the parole officer?
The answer is, he was stretched too thin.
At Least 25 Missed Opportunities
- Since last December parole agents and sheriff’s deputies visited the Garridos 16 times for a variety of reasons but didn’t find anything amiss. (The Guardian)
- In 2008 a team of police officers, whose purpose was to check on sex offenders in the county, visited Mr. Garrido to make sure he lived at his listed address. They reported finding nothing unusual. (New York Times)
- The fire department visited his home six times in the last decade to assist his elderly mother and after reports of bonfires in his yard. (New York Times)
- 911 call to Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department reporting young children living in tents in Garrido’s Antioch backyard. The caller also told the dispatcher that “Garrido was psychotic and had a sexual addiction.” A sheriff’s deputy talked with Garrido for a half-hour on his front porch, but never entered the house or walked into the backyard. He warned Garrido the tents could be a code violation. (KXTV [Channel 10] News [Sacramento, CA])
In this last incident, the deputy knew that people were living outside in tents and warned Garrido of possible code violations but did not go into the backyard! Who did he think was living in those tents? And why would they be living outside rather than in the house? With the 911 report of a sex offender living there, wouldn’t his curiosity be piqued to find out who was back there and what was going on?
There is little doubt that had any of the government officers who visited the property searched the backyard they would have noticed clothes, diapers or other indications that several females were living back there. That should have sent off alarms. But in the 25 or more visits to the Garrido place, no one did more than peek over the fence, leaving Jaycee and her daughters imprisoned just a couple of dozen feet away.
This is the tragedy of the Jaycee Dugard case. Parole officers and local law enforcement spend so much time tracking down those who pose little threat to the community that they overlook the truly dangerous offenders.
As should be expected, some legislators came to a completely wrong conclusion. Calif. state Senator Tom Harmon told The Sacramento Bee, “This demonstrates the problems that we’re going to have if we release thousands of prisoners into our local communities.”
No, this demonstrates the problems you get when you don’t differentiate dangerous criminals from small time offenders. This is what you get when the state stretches parole officers too thin by tracking low-risk offenders rather than dangerous ones.
The Solution: More Resources for Community Corrections and Concentration on Those Likely to Cause Great Harm
The Pew Center on the States published an excellent report—1 in 31—analyzing the current state of probation and parole in the United States. In it they point out that while two-thirds of those under corrections supervision are living in the community, only 10 percent of corrections spending goes to monitor them. The problem is made worse when those scarce dollars are spent tracking released offenders who pose little danger.
The result is Jaycee Dugard imprisoned for 18 years. The Pew Report summarizes the imperative well: Parole should separate “those who are more likely to cause great harm from those who may cause relatively little harm.”
It is important that advocates of reform use the Jaycee Dugard case as an opportunity to explain to our friends and neighbors, including our Bible study and accountability groups, that our current policies put us all at risk. And that our common sense proposals to repair our broken system will make us safer.
In His service,
Vice President, Prison Fellowship
- Garrido Arrest/Parole Timeline
- Pew Charitable Trust Report: One in 31 U.S. Adults are Behind Bars, on Parole or Probation
- Issues in Criminal Justice Reform: Probation and Parole
- The Urban Institute: Beyond the Prison Gates—The State of Parole in America
- California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Governor Tours the California Institution for Men in Chino with CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate
- Maximum Impact: Targeting Supervision on Higher Risk People, Places, and Times
- Putting Public Safety First: 13 Strategies for Successful Supervision and Reentry